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A Tenant Asks: My Ceiling Collapsed, Does my Landlord Have to Repair my Own Property ?

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last updated: 14 Jun 2016 report a problem

collapsed ceiling and roof in a property

This blog post is an answer to one of our reader’s question. Angela McCalla asks:

Q: I live in a property owned by a Housing Association.

The ceiling collapsed when the water tank in the loft sprung a leak. As a result my carpet/underlay and wardrobe, which I purchased, were damaged, and, the room needs to be redecorated.

Can I get compensations to replace these things? They are saying they will only repair the damaged ceiling.

A lot of times failure of one system in the property can cause many other failures and cause massive damage to your own and your neighbouring properties. In Angela’s case, a leaky water tank caused a ceiling collapse and massive water damage to multiple items, including her own belongings.

From the way Angela described her problem, it seems like it was a minor collapse, but it could have been a lot worse. A collapsing ceiling can seriously injure and even kill an unfortunate tenant.

The Landlord is required to any damage to the property, that’s not caused by the tenant

Normally, the landlord is in charge of repairing the property and do regular maintenance to prevent such accidents from happening. In Angela’s case, the Housing Association should repair all features of the property that have been damaged by both the leak and collapse. It’s unlikely that the ceiling is the only thing that is affected, so the Housing Association needs to re-assess the required repairs.

If chunks from the ceiling damaged other things like furniture, or appliances, the HA (short for housing association) has to repair those as well.

If there is any water damage to your walls, floors or other items in the property, they should be repaired as well.

It does not become clear whether the water tank is part of Angela’s property or the property above her flat. Obviously, the first case should require that the HA also repair the leaking water tank and make sure it works properly.

This is all regarded in the Landlord and Tenant Act from 1985, which states under section 11:

(a)to keep in repair the structure and exterior of the dwelling-house (including drains, gutters and external pipes),

(b)to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for the supply of water, gas and electricity and for sanitation (including basins, sinks, baths and sanitary conveniences, but not other fixtures, fittings and appliances for making use of the supply of water, gas or electricity), and

(c)to keep in repair and proper working order the installations in the dwelling-house for space heating and heating water.

So, obviously, the landlord has to repair every major piece that is part of the rented property, as described above. The property must be returned into a good condition and all normal functions should be restored, in case the collapse has cut off some features. E.g. a collapse in the bathroom will render it unusable.

Angela doesn’t point out which room had its ceiling collapsed, but it’s likely she would have mentioned if it was the bathroom, kitchen, or another vital section of the property.

The more tricky questions is:

Who is responsible for damaged property of the tenant ?

It depends really. Because we lack detailed information about how Angela’s property was maintained throughout her tenancy, we’re going to look into a couple of situations and see what her rights are in each one.

Damage NOT caused by lack or repairs or landlord neglect

If the damage occurred despite the landlord’s best work to maintain and keep in repair the property, then it’s likely they are void of responsibility towards their tenants belongings.

We can assume that a landlord has done everything expected from their role if they have:

  • Obtained all required certifications and safety checks and they are valid for the time when the accident occurred;
  • Acted immediately to inspect the property and assess the damages, after which they have scheduled visits from the appropriate servicemen;
  • Authorised repairs and maintenance for all known problems related to the accident;
  • Repaired or replaced broken equipment damaged as a result of the accident;
  • Monitored and maintained the property in working condition during the tenancy period

If the above are true, then we can certainly believe the landlord is doing everything in their power to assist their tenants and provide them with a good home. However, despite all the hard work, accidents can happen without any way to anticipate or mitigate them. In such case, it’s unfair for the landlord to have to pay compensation for the tenant’s belongings, as they have completed their obligations and also suffer financially just like their tenant.

If this was the case, then Angela should not expect for her belongings to be compensated. Instead, she might want to look into contents insurance. This is a type of insurance that protects tenants belongings from almost any kind of damage, not caused by the tenants themselves.

Damage caused by lack or repairs or landlord neglect

If the damage occurred, while the landlord was notified of the problem and has had time to react to it and mitigate the accident, but has failed to do so. One of the most important responsibilities of the landlord is to keep their tenants safe.

We can assume that a landlord has neglected their responsibilities if they have:

  • Not done repairs in time, or at all;
  • Neglected common maintenance or regular inspections of the property’s systems and features;
  • Ignored warning signs and symptoms
  • Ignored tenant letter or request for repairs
  • Not obtained some of the required certifications and safety checks
  • Not conducted regular inspections or basic maintenance

Note: Your landlord only becomes responsible for repairing the damage when they know about it. It’s your responsibility to warn them of any issues or symptoms that you’re experiencing in the property. Regular inspections are recommended to mitigate bad accidents from happening.

If this is the case, then the landlord has violated the Defective Premises Act 1972, which states:

4 Landlord’s duty of care in virtue of obligation or right to repair premises demised.

(1)Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect.

(2)The said duty is owed if the landlord knows (whether as the result of being notified by the tenant or otherwise) or if he ought in all the circumstances to have known of the relevant defect.

(3)In this section “relevant defect” means a defect in the state of the premises existing at or after the material time and arising from, or continuing because of, an act or omission by the landlord which constitutes or would if he had had notice of the defect, have constituted a failure by him to carry out his obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises; and for the purposes of the foregoing provision “the material time” mean

In this case, the landlord should compensate the tenant for their losses, since they have been caused by the landlord’s lack of maintenance or repairs, or just general neglecting of their responsibility.

An inspection of a certified specialist can determine the real cause of the accident, but ceilings don’t just fall from nothing. Most likely there has been serious lack of maintenance on the plumbing system, causing a bad leak. But leaks also take time before they can damage the ceiling to the point of collapsing, so there should have been more than one warning sign before the accident has occurred.

If the tenant can prove that they have warned their landlord about a worsening problem, like a damp patch close to the relative location of the water tank, and then have been ignored or denied assistance by their landlord, it’s likely that the landlord will be found guilty of neglecting their responsibilities.

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